I realize that the high concentration of posts about Toluca Mexican Restaurant is unusual, if not just plain silly. Starting my blog almost two years ago was an opportunity for my wife and I to break our happy-though-stagnant restaurant routine and get out and explore Denver's relatively diverse restaurant world. Since then it has become rare to find myself in the same restaurant twice, much less three times in three months as has been the case with Toluca.
Besides having maybe the best taco al pastor in Denver, Toluca has another attractive quality to me now that I am a proud father of two baby boys: location. You see, Toluca Mexican Restaurant is located just a few blocks from the Babies R Us that is closest to my house. I tried to fight shopping at this mega-chain baby warehouse but I must admit, if not inevitable, it is truly very hard to avoid once babies come. And since shopping and/ or doing anything with twins means forgetting to do other things like eat, it is a minor miracle in my life that Toluca is so close to said baby store. It is a wonderful, convenient and delicious excuse to chow down on some tacos al pastor while en route to spend the rest of my paycheck on diapers, formula and extraneous--but admittedly cute--baby miscellany.
This time around I was in the mood for something other than tacos for some reason and was tempted by the numerous images on the pictorial menu at Toluca. When thinking of good and bad signs, I would venture to say that more than half of the time places with pictures of food on the menu don't serve great food (the next level of that being plastic versions of the dishes in display cases but that is a whole other post altogether). They may serve reliable and acceptable fare, but rarely is it carefully prepared, feature unique variations or have any touch of creativity.
Gladly at Toluca the latter applies, and at once a testimony to the washed-out, unappetizing menu photos and to the quality of the presentation of the actual food-- the plates look nothing like the pictures.
Take, for instance, the chilaquiles. In laminated, ageing photo-form they gave the appearance of a moldy blob of something not unlike a regurgitated burrito. Actually I'm not even sure if it was on the menu, but if it was, you can imagine how a pile of fried tortillas covered in salsa, cheese, eggs and onions would look like a vomited burrito in a discolored, vintage-style menu picture.
Instead what came out of the kitchen was a stack of freshly fried, thick-cut tortilla strips smothered in a deep red, smoky guajillo salsa with big chunks of white onion, fresh avocado and grated queso cotija. Also mixed in were scrambled eggs instead of the preferable egg over easy (that runs gooey yolk over it all). Despite this unfortunate oversight it was an excellent plate of chilaquiles of which the absolute star was the insanely good salsa.
The filet of grilled fish on the other hand did look alarmingly like its Technicolor menu representation, and although I didn't try it and so can't make a comment, my father-in-law thought it was moist, fresh and gave it the thumbs up despite the grated cheddar-jack that was sprinkled over everything.
I've commented before on molcajetes, and I do generally think that things served in culinary vessels that they were not made in are pretty stupid. But this molcajete was the absolute highlight of my day (remember I was on my way to the baby store). Like a good molcajete, it was so damn hot (to temperature) that it acted as second cooking vessel.
It came out, as I was saying, sizzling hot and literally hopping with fresh-grilled steak, chorizo and shrimp. Also in the hot, bubbling cauldron were big luxurious chunks of nopales and fresh radishes. The brothy salsa base was not unlike my chilaquile salsa, but that was fine by all of us as I doubt I would tire from it's smoky, rich, spicy and tangy flavor if it came out of my faucets as drinking water.
Being that it was only 3 pm on a Saturday the kitchen was especially sharp. It was nothing less than an excellent meal (though I can't vouch for that fish); a testament perhaps, to the high standard of quality at Toluca imparted by the passionate owner, Victor (whom I wrote about in another post). And as they continue to grow their spit-catering business as Victor has alluded to, hopefully it will remain that way.
It's hard not to stop at Toluca when nearby, which for better or worse is my reality these days, so I would expect to have another dispatch sometime soon.
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